This piece originally appeared as a free article in the Early August edition of The Measurement Advisor.
The road to organizational destruction is paved with bad PR strategies. If you’ve read the rest of our Strategy Issue (here, here, and here), and you are still not convinced that you need good data and metrics if you want good strategy, here are four cautionary history lessons on what happens when you ignore your data:
1. You lose lots of money and support.
When Planned Parenthood discovered that their partner the Susan G. Komen foundation was going to cut off their funding, they immediately began poring over volumes of data about their donors and supporters to plan a response. Meanwhile, the folks at the Komen foundation were worrying about what the major organizations that sponsor the foundation might be thinking about abortion rights. Komen just assumed that their long track record of supporting women’s health would be enough to carry them through any vocal opposition from Planned Parenthood supporters. It wasn’t.
Komen’s strategy was to stay quiet and hope the whole thing blew over. When it didn’t, they made mistake after mistake. While the debate erupted and continue to rage most furiously on Twitter, Komen responded with a YouTube video. (Note to Komen: Always respond on the same platform that a crisis erupts, and, next time, make sure your CEO gets good video training on how to look human and not robotic before you chose You Tube to mount a strategic defense.) Their answer to every protest was “This was not political,” yet the majority of the Twitterverse was saying that it was. In the end, the organization suffered an almost mortal blow. For more background and details, read my coverage at the time.
2. Your stock price drops a lot.
Intel’s choice to ignore PR data and call a bug in one of its chips a “design flaw” almost destroyed the company. Intel explained complaints about chip problems as “only affecting a handful of geeks,” claiming that the only people that might be affected were a few very technical users. However, just before the problems emerged Intel had embarked on a multi-million dollar international branding campaign called “Intel Inside,” with the goal of making Intel a household name.
The campaign succeeded at its goal, but the timing was terrible, since the problem with bad chips started just as the campaign was getting traction. Because they had done such a good job of making their brand a household word, when word of the chip problem surfaced in the media a firestorm of consumer criticism ensued.
My company, The Delahaye Group, was measuring Intel’s PR at the time and could observe the steady increase in negative coverage over the weeks and months that they used this strategy. When “60 Minutes” covered it in a major investigation, Intel finally had to admit their problem and fix it. But CEO Andy Grove later admitted in his book Only the Paranoid Survive that the way his company handled the problem was one of the worst strategic decisions he ever made. The only good thing that came out of it was that Intel’s PR team earned boatloads of credibility for being the lone company voice against their “keep quiet and it will all blow away” strategy.
3. You lose credibility—and maybe the GOP nomination.
Chris Christie was walking right in Intel’s footsteps when he first ignored, then denied, and ultimately blamed subordinates for Bridgegate, the 2013 Fort Lee, New Jersey, lane closure scandal. But the media weren’t ignoring it, and the public weren’t distracted. Negative coverage of the ensuing debacle increased to the point that today, even though Chris Christie was exonerated, whenever the potential GOP nominee for president is discussed, Bridgegate comes to mind.
4. You lose an Olympic bid.
There were so many strategic communications flaws in the failed Boston 2024 Olympic bid, we don’t have time to analyze all of them. Here are the top 5:
- Not doing research before you make a huge strategic announcement. Suffice it to say that Boston 2014 should have done their research up front to judge the level of public support.
- Not using data to identify key influencers. Not only were many key influencers taken by surprise by the initial announcement, apparently Boston 2014 hadn’t even approached many of the venues they were proposing to use before the bid was announced.
- Boston 2014 thought they could rely on PR to change public opinion, without changing their actions. Critics complained that none of their fundamental objections were addressed when a revised version of the plan (Bid 2.0) was announced.
- Boston 2014 ignored and weren’t transparent about a known problem that eventually caused a City Councilor to threaten to subpoena them.
Perhaps most importantly, Boston 2014 didn’t bother to take into account the self-perception and history of its key stakeholder, the Boston citizenry. Whatever made them think that Boston, a town that is still quite proud of dressing its most prominent citizens up in Mohawk Indian costumes and setting fire to a boat load of British tea because of a “quarrel about three pence on a pound of tea,”* would cheerfully okay a foreign entity (the IOC) imposing a potential tax of $300 million on its people? Go figure. ∞
* That’s from The Journal of Charles J. Stratford, found and transcribed by my cousin Helen Eitt who was married to the great great great nephew of Benjamin Stratford, who apparently had a direct hand in it.
Thanks to the 2PlusBlog for the image.